I averted my eyes from my smartphone to survey my place. The lights are soft. A few of the dirty plates and pots are left in the sink for morning cleaning. The two cuts of salmon I fried two days ago are still in the pan. Despite the cleanliness I try to maintain, the lack of organization in my unit is obvious. Old mails are piled up on my table, together with my diabetes glucometer and sticks and lancets. On the same table, my indoor plants need watering. These plants are important to me. They soften my living room and provide a little oxygen. They are living things that I can check up on, like friends, even chat with them telepathically. In a few minutes I will go to the yard with my mask on to water the bigger garden. It is amazing how the things I used to take for granted became so valuable nowadays. The plants, like pets, are almost indispensable in this time of pandemic. When the world tells us to distance from one another, plants and pets and books and computers and phones become indispensable.
Ah, the fried salmons. I should set them aside in the fridge. Now and then a car passes by. I could tell it is brand new by its crisp, strong, barely audible engine sound, as opposed to the loud, almost struggling sound of an older version. This can sometimes be worsened by the loud rap music being played inside it. Or the heavy bass then makes the ground shake. I donâ€™t know how the kidsâ€™ hearing nowadays would turn out as they age with this abuse they inflict to their ears.
I step out and turn on the outside faucet to start the watering of the buildingâ€™s garden.
My name is Popong. Just plain Popong.
I have been living and working in the USA for the last thirty years and proud of what I have accomplished. I came by invitation to work in the health field somewhere in Tennessee, on an H1 B visa at a time this country was desperate for health care workers in remote rural areas where only a few young new graduates would like to work; partly due to their youth, they would rather start their careers in more cosmopolitan areas, urbanites they call themselves, where there is greater chance of meeting a potential partner in life to settle down with. After getting married they would perhaps move into the small towns to work in a more subdued and quiet environment, raising a family. In the meantime I was employed to cover those remote towns, to fill the need of taking care of their sick. I grabbed the opportunity as soon as it was offered with a bonus of 3000 dollars, a large amount then for a Filipino small town boy like me. Yes, my migration to this country was as clean and crisp as a newly printed dollar bill. I did it all by the book. I got me green card and obtained my citizenship through legal means, paid taxes and kept clear of crimes, minor or major, bought my house, got 401k, bought myself all the gadgets I could enjoy, went to university for another college degree; I am almost too Republican you might say, but my political leaning had always been Democrat.
But I am not the â€œhigh class, man of means, who-made-it kind a guyâ€ you would expect. It never occurred to me to aspire for a life in a gated community with a swimming pool, a well trimmed landscape where I can walk a dog every morning, play golf on weekends, pay for regular dinner in expensive restaurants and post my vacation visits in Europe on Facebook. Hell no. I am single, living in a cheap downtown spot surrounded by a mixed group of Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, American gringos, Haitians and African-Americans, virtually a United Nations in spirit if not in appearance. I live in a cheap condo, although it had tripled its price since I bought it not too long ago. I also bought another condo in the same building and a 1940â€™s single family home a few streets away, which are my rental investments because nobody knows what tomorrow brings in a scary world of Trumpism and QAnon and Black Lives Matter. Militias draped in the USA flag telling minorities like me to go home, to China of all places; I donâ€™t even know a single word in Mandarin. I suddenly wish I live at the turn of the century when we Filipinos were part of the US Commonwealth, and Americans, despite their shitty Manifest Destiny and unhampered exploitation of the islandâ€™s natural resources were showing the world how to create a car out of mere imagination, as good as Disneyâ€™s Mickey Mouse, and mix to that the invention of the phone, the radio, the TV, the computer â€“ remember those days? During those days, Americans were serious and they got spirit. Now some of them are accusing other countries and the minorities amongst them for taking away their â€˜inherentâ€™ superiority, blaming them their declining prestige and economic turbulence. The greatness of America came from those who sat in their studies and read as many books as they could, solved as many mental challenges as they could, persevered in their passionate goals of creating and producing and manufacturing. They attracted people like Einstein, Oppenheimer, and every smart person they could find around the world. I know because I read most of their biographies. I donâ€™t think America became great because somebody draped an American flag over his shoulders and chanted American greatness. If it is only as simple as that, every banana republic will be at the top of the totem pole in the hierarchy of greatness among nations. What I see is scary. The fights, the violence, the ridiculous call for this and that cause. I wish people will just act like me. You wake up, work, go home, read a good book, write some stupid piece like what I am writing now, pray to God for good health and keep moving. Of course I am in no position to dispense any advice with grand sagacity, heck, I come from a country that historically couldnâ€™t even differentiate its head from its tail. While living my first half of life there it was poor and corrupt. And now that I lived more than half of my life here, some of its citizens became rich but are equally corrupt. Corruption is the only permanent thing in its way of life, which makes it profoundly foreboding to see this growing corruption, so blatantly demonstrated and blindingly denied deeply impregnating its politics. I have seen it before which makes it eerily frightening.
You canâ€™t blame me if I am building this rental business which is a hit or miss enterprise. It is my dire effort to increase my security in old age. If someday America collapses (God forbid!) and I would be told, â€˜No more Medicare, no more SSSâ€™, and I was left old, alone, perhaps sickly with nowhere to go and nobody to seek help from. Hah!
But I play the Drama Queen in that scenario. My future may not be that bleak. Though my childhood was Dickensian, my adulthood was a combination of Mother Theresa and Les Miserables. I mean, I ventured alone from my country to a foreign land so I could support my family back home, moderately succeeding along the way, like a copycat of Jean Valjean. Funded the education of a couple of kids to become professionals and they are now pretty well off. Along the way I did my own version of helping out some homeless and people down in their lack although of course in a country like the USA, they may fall to one of two types: One is someone who is truly and honestly in need or Two, someone who has a vice or habit to perpetuate. The former is called charity, the latter is called enablement. Well, I have dealt with both.
Of course I can rely on certain people when I get old. Although I certainly donâ€™t want to. I lived so independently all my life, used to prop up and support and assist others that I feel it unthinkable to ask for help someday. It is just not a part of my nature to ask for help. Nope. I will be deeply ashamed and if my luck ever comes to that, I pray to God to just kick the bucket where I stand, and die after my wonderful, strong, and very productive life. I donâ€™t want to bow my head and beg for mercy after I worked my ass and did everything right and was the tower of strength for many.